We keep struggling with what to call the content produced by the people formerly known as the audience.
As they nurtured the idea that eventually became Bluffton Today, my friends in our newspaper division spent many months wrestling with basic questions about content, tone and especially civic processes. They didn’t come up with a label, and they certainly didn’t call it citizen journalism. But they did come up with a catchphrase: “A community in conversation with itself.”
I like it. For too long, too many professionals have imagined journalism to be a one-way process. It isn’t. It never has been. The Internet may amplify the community conversation so we can hear with our tin professionalized ears, but that conversation has been there all along.
A lot of this labeling strikes me at the moment to some how define content in two separate camps: the stuff done by people paid to do it and those who don’t.
As digital media evolves, I think that distinction is going to become less and less relevant, which makes the whole labeling process somewhat misguided. It helps now as we try to shape our future and devise responses and strategies, but in the end, it’s all just reporting.
To me, reporting is a far more noble word than journalism. People need information as much as they need food and water. The shape and source of the information is far more important as the source of the information. The need for information is part of our DNA, part of our survival instinct.
Reporting is all about gathering information, or observing events, and telling other people what you know. You can report about the city council, or you can report Little League scores. Reporting is not exclusively professional.
Professionals object that they are needed to sort and filter, gather and disseminate, and help make sense of it all.
The problem is, in a digital world, channels are prolific, filters abundant and context just a click away. As people become more savvy about the communications tools, and as they evolve, they become their own editors.
We need professionals to help feed the beast of participation and conversation. We need professionals to do that brand of enterprise/investigative reporting that only works well when its a full-time avocation. In the end, however, the digital world is just one big coffee shop filled with talk. Some of it is work-a-day reporting. The rest is just comments on reporting. Some comments add to the reporting, some comments help us understand the reporting, some of it is just noise.
The amazing thing is, we’re all smart enough to sort it out.
So, at the moment, I’m having a hard time thinking of this in terms of labels. To me, it’s just people talking.
A “community in conversation with itself” includes people paid to find stuff out and talk about it.
We in the media industry, if we want to continue to have jobs, need to figure out how to make our reporting fit better into the new conversational styles. We also need to figure out advertising as a conversation. That is, if we want to remain relevant to our friends and neighbors and the businesses in the communities we call home.
UPDATE: Rich Gordon, chair of newspapers and new media at the Medill School
of Journalism, sends along this relevant quote: “A good
newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself. — Arthur Miller”